/ Modified jan 22, 2021 3:29 p.m.

Arizona schools chief on concerns as pandemic disruptions endure

State Supt. Kathy Hoffman says about 65,000 fewer students are enrolled in public schools than normal.

Arizona’s public schools have about 65,000 fewer students enrolled than the state’s Department of Education would expect and schools cannot account for their whereabouts, according to State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.

“We do not know where they are,” Hoffman said. “They could have moved out of state. They may be engaged in homeschooling. So there’s a lot of questions around that.”

Hoffman said her office is working with the Arizona Department of Child Safety and the Governor’s Office to help districts identify and reach out to students no longer enrolled in their schools.

“But I think the challenge is at the state level, trying to identify and locate 65,000 students is a really large task,” Hoffman said. “We’re in the process of reaching out to school counselors to ask what they’re finding, ‘What trends are you seeing, where are these children going, how are they being served at home?’”

After Gov. Ducey’s State of the State address where he said the state would not fund “empty seats” or allow schools to remain in a “perpetual state of closure,” Hoffman issued a statement that said the governor “ignored the reality of the worsening spread of COVID-19” and its impact on students and teachers. Hoffman said she agrees with the governor’s assertion that students are better served in person, but said community spread of the disease makes it dangerous to return anytime soon.

“Teachers are worried about returning back to the classroom knowing that if they are exposed or they get sick, they worry about will they even have the ability to get the care they need,” Hoffman said.

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